Since we still do not have a 100% understanding of the Swedish holiday calendar we didn’t plan another great adventure for our four day long weekend. Instead we did a series of spontaneous activities instead. The first was on Thursday when we decided to take a boat ‘cruise’ to the Finnish island chain called Åhland. I had done a bit of research looking for things to do on the weekend and found an advertisement for a bus+boat adventure from Gävle and we decided on Wednesday night to give it a try.
So we got up early on Thursday and walked over to the bus terminal and luckily there was space for us on the bus even though we didn’t have a reservation. As soon as we got on the bus we could tell that we were not the intended demographic for the tour. We were definitely a couple decades below the average age, and also we start our drinking a little later in the day. The smell of alcohol wasn’t particularly surprising given that as Åhland is an autonomous region of Finland which makes it a tax free haven allowing duty free alcohol to be sold on board the boats to and from the island. As alcohol prices are very high in Sweden a large number of people take part in these boat crossings for no other reason than to stock up on discount alcohol. And as a result the boat is pretty much a licence to print money so much so that they heavily subsidize the ticket price (and bus transport) just to get people on the boat to spend money in the duty free shop, the numerous restaurants, the buffet and the slot machines.
The boat itself was very similar to the pre-Spirit Class BC Ferries except without all the general non-commercial seating areas. There were two car decks and three passenger decks. As it was the start of a long weekend there were a number of cars loading but nowhere near enough to fill the boat. In fact without the duty free status and the passengers that attracts the ferries from Sweden and Finland would not be profitable enough to run nearly as frequently thus effectively cutting off the island residents.
It was a bit of a cloudy and foggy day so there really wasn’t much to see during the trip other than the odd small rocky island here or there. This boat leaves from north of Stockholm so unfortunately you don’t get to see the famous Stockholm archipelago. It was warm enough outside though that we did get to sit outside for a while and eat our lunch. That may not sound like much to write home about given that it is mid-May, but given the cold winter and spring we’ve had it felt quite nice. Since there was not much to see, we decided to do as the locals do and visit the duty free and stock up for upcoming summer gatherings.
The real experts brought along their own dollies for transporting all of their beer back home. The customs limit is 48 beer per person and it wasn’t uncommon for small groups to travel together and haul 8 two-fours back on their dollies. Due to the nature of our ‘tour’ we weren’t able to get off the boat at the port in Eckerö, but stayed on the boat while it unloaded cars and took on a new load for the return trip. Then straight back on the bus to arrive back in Gävle by 5pm. All in all we spent a lot of time just sitting, but we got to see some new countryside and some foggy Baltic and experience a side of Swedish ‘culture’ that we probably wouldn’t have come across in any other way.